“I KNOW, I KNOW! STOP YELLING AT ME!!!”

As a kid, one of the things I hated the absolute most was being yelled or scolded at by others.  Well, naturally, no kid (or even adult) enjoys being yelled or scolded at. I think all children feel sad and intimidated someone, especially an adult, gets frustrated at them and shouts, “NO! BAD! STOP!” However, for some reason, I usually took it much harder than most other kids.

Whenever any adult yelled at me or spoke to me in a loud, strict tone, I would often feel daunted and sometimes wanted to cry. To me it like they were turning into a big scary monster that was roaring at me, and I was supposed to “take it like a man” and not be scared or upset.   I can remember a few distinct moments of my childhood where a parent, teacher, relative, or even stranger shouted at me and caused me so much anxiety. For instance, there was the time when I got yelled at by my karate instructor (yeah, I used to take karate lessons) after I complained about being left behind during a jog with other students. At first I was intimidated and could barely move or think. After a few seconds, I became increasingly agitated and even angry, thinking to myself that I had been treated unfairly and wanting to scream right back at him. Then I tried to avoid the karate instructor and keep to myself as much as possible. I was able to shrug it off eventually, but it’ll be a while before I forget how scared and frustrated I was then.

That is essentially what would normally happen if someone shouted or loudly scolded at me: I’d initially be alarmed and silent, then I’d be upset and irritated, and then I’d isolate myself from others and try to make myself feel better. Occasionally I’d end up crying and had to be calmed down by one of my parents, but in most cases I wanted to prove that I “could take it” and showed as little intimidation as I could. In fact, I’d sometimes feel ashamed of being so anxious because an adult yelled at me; I assumed that people would think of me as a baby or wuss if I was unable to accept some discipline. So, there were plenty of times when I was pretending to be calm and happy after being reprimanded, when, in actuality, I wanted to break down in tears and beg them to stop.

Over time, as I matured into an adult, my reaction to being shouted or scolded at did sort of change – but not for the better. Nowadays, whenever I get shouted or nagged at, instead of becoming quiet and reclusive, I typically get defensive and apprehensive. In some instances, I might have a bit of an anxious meltdown.

A good example to point to happened several years ago, when I had to use my dad’s car to drive to work, since my sister had the car I usually drove and dad was out of town. After I got into the car I accidentally forgot to open the garage door and bumped into it, causing some minor damage. Upon hearing the noise, my mom immediately rushed into the garage and yelled out, “TIIIIM!!! WHAT HAPPENED?!?!” I freaked out and starting screaming much louder than she was. I can’t fully remember what I said and did, but I do know that I was scared, frustrated, and really want to be shouted at or scolded by anyone. I had to take a short walk to calm myself down before I drove to work.

There have been several other instances like this in recent times, mainly with my parents. While I’m certainly trying to control myself much more often, I still have difficulty maintaining my temper in these kinds of situations. The problem is that whenever someone shouts at me or speaks to me in a very loud, strict tone, I still feel the same way that I did as a child: scared and distressed, like an angry drill sergeant was screaming at me. I think the two main reasons for why I’m so sensitive to this are due to my struggle with anxiety as a whole and my apprehension of being judged negatively by others. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by people scolding or yelling at you if you’re already dealing with pressure from within.

By this point it should be well-understood that I really, really, really don’t like it when people talk to me in a loud, stern tone. Unfortunately, the reality is that I may have to learn to get used to it a little in the future. I think all of us can agree that being yelled and scolded is a part of almost everyone’s life, whether we like it or not. We all have to deal with people getting angry at us and yelling at us occasionally, and these people may be employers, close friends, romantic partners, spouses, and strangers. Becoming agitated and yelling back at them certainly won’t help in most situations, even if you don’t deserve to be talked to like that. In most cases, you need to accept it with good composure, not let it get to you, and move on. This is particularly relevant in the workplace, since I know I will probably get scolded and even yelled at by my boss every once in a while.

At the same time, I don’t think I can fully blame myself for the way I react to being yelled and scolded at. I think I can at least partially blame my Asperger Syndrome as well as problems with anxiety. From what I’ve seen and heard, many others with Aspergers react similarly to being in that kind of situation; when they are put under a great deal of stress and given a lot of audio sensory. I can definitely feel for Aspies when they have a tantrum or meltdown because someone shouted at or scolded them. They don’t necessarily mean to freak out or go ballistic; they just really hate being treated like that.

I will end this post by saying this to my non-Aspie readers: the next time you’re about to shout or wag your finger at someone with Aspergers, please don’t. If possible, please try to find another way of getting your point across without intimidating them or making them feel bad.

Who cares about what others think?

I seriously wish I didn’t.

Ok, so by this point, it should be pretty clear to my readers that I tend to stress out much more easily than most others, and that I am very perfectionist in how I handle many of my day-to-day activities. Additionally, if you’ve read “My Aspie Obsessions over the years,” you may be aware that I have a bad habit of looking up comments on the web concerning political or socially divisive topics (read the blog post if you haven’t already). It’s only recently that I’ve started to fully realize that these problems are, to a significant degree, caused by my concern for how other people judge me and how they feel toward various social/political topics.

Some of you who have been following my blog might not be too surprised by this, especially considering how I’ve said several times that I’m regularly worried about “not being good enough” and that I’m always trying to do what other people think I should do. It makes sense to say that this is partially because I care a lot about what others think and assume they “know what’s best for me”. It also seems reasonable to suppose that I keep wasting so much time by reading online comments because I’m so deeply worried about the views of my peers – wanting to see if my views correspond well with theirs. In other words, I seem to put a bit too much weight in the judgments of others, and refusing to fully trust my own perceptions.

Unlike many of the issues I’ve discussed before, I can’t say that this is a common thing for people with Asperger Syndrome. I have found a couple of articles* online that indicate that I may not be the only Aspie with this particular problem. Nonetheless, it could still very well be that this is something that I’ve developed on my own, independent from my disorder. Besides, nearly all of us is concerned to some degree with how other individuals perceive us, and plenty of people are interested in the popular consensus of certain sociopolitical topics. Regardless, I just want to make it clear that I am not suggesting this is something that all or even most Aspies go through.

Anyway, I will now attempt to explain why I concern myself so much with the opinions or judgments of others. I believe that my childhood may provide some answers. As you might imagine, I wasn’t exactly a very popular kid in school, and my behavior was often a source of ridicule from my classmates, as well as a source of frustration for my parents and teachers. It didn’t take too long for me to notice that I was receiving a fair amount of negative judgments from those around me, because I was behaving weird or annoying to them. I did not like this one bit, though I often went out of my way to show that I wasn’t affected by this at all. As hard as I tried, however, I could not hide the fact that I desperately wanted to be respected and accepted by other kids as well as adults.

Over the years, I developed an increasing desire to please those around me, or at least prevent them from judging me negatively. Simply put, I tried my best to do what they thought I ought to do, or what would make me look “good” or “cool” in their eyes. This applied to my friends, to my relatives, to my peers at school, to my teachers, and especially to my parents. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very successful in doing this most of the time. Despite my attempts to avoid negative judgment, I kept on behaving in ways that constantly annoyed, frustrated, or invited chuckles from other people. If I wasn’t causing my friends to shake their hands and laugh at me behind my back, I was testing my parents’ patience and driving them nearly insane. So in other words, being myself while at the same time being presentable to other people just didn’t seem possible.

In spite of this, I kept on trying really hard to be the kind of person that would make everyone around me happy. My desire to be accepted became even stronger over time, and I got increasingly upset with the critical reactions that I often received. This eventually caused me to behave a bit more submissively and apologetically toward others, going out of my way to not offend, annoy, or turn off anyone. Meanwhile, starting in my late high school years I believe, I developed a profound curiosity in how my peers in school and elsewhere felt about certain political and social topics that I felt very passionate about (e.g. LGBT rights, the War in Iraq, women’s rights, bullying, gun laws, and gang-related violence). For a while, I would sometimes ask my friends and acquaintances for their opinions on these issues, or get into a long conversation with them if they brought it up. If their views substantially differed from mine, then I would often get into heated arguments with them and tried to present my case as forcefully as possible. As a result, I had my fair share of verbal fights with people throughout high school and college, one of which resulted in the loss of a good friend of mien. I also got into quite a few arguments with random people online, often being the victim of falling for a troll’s provocative comments.

Then at one point, I believe my desire to please other people and my obsession with their sociopolitical viewpoints came into conflict with one another. I soon realized that it wasn’t possible to avoid making others uncomfortable or unhappy so long as I kept arguing with them and expressed my disagreement with their views. At the same time, I began to worry that I may very well be wrong about certain subjects, and I was losing confidence in my ability to evaluate them logically. Consequently, I stopped getting myself into debates with people about sociopolitical issues, and instead started simply observing what they had to say about them. This is what eventually led to my current habit of going online to search for and look at comments that challenge my own beliefs. I suppose this is my way of trying to be more “in touch” with popular opinion, as if I can’t be trusted to form my own independent conclusions.

In addition to this, I’ve become even more sensitive to the judgments of other people and anxious of their disapproval. As I mentioned in “It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough”, I keep assuming that others know better than I do about what I should be doing with my life. Whenever someone suggests that I do a certain activity in any context, I feel almost obliged to engage that activity, as if it were necessary for my health or happiness. Moreover, I continue to take whatever steps I can to make the people around me happy and respectful of me. This applies mainly to people who I know personally, such as my friends, professors, employers, relatives, and especially my parents. When it is clear that I’ve bothered them or they don’t agree with what I’m doing, I can get very upset. So I am always willing to make certain sacrifices in order to keep them from passing negative judgment on me; anything to win their full approval!

Having said all of this, I desperately wish I could be a little more independent and confident in myself. I hate wasting so much of my valuable time worrying about how my sociopolitical views differ from those of my peers, and I don’t like constantly sacrificing my own desires for the sake of making other people happy. Like many other individuals throughout the globe, I desperately want to be able to trust myself and not rely so heavily on the opinions of others. It would be nice if I could honestly say, “Y’know what, not everyone will approve of what I do and what I believe, and that is ok. What really matters is what I think.” I can guarantee you that I’d be a much happier and more productive person then!

*Articles on Asperger Syndrome and obsessing over other people’s opinions:
https://seventhvoice.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/new-study-finds-that-individuals-with-aspergers-syndrome-dont-lack-empathy-in-fact-if-anything-they-empathize-too-much/
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/05/11/a-radical-new-autism-theory.html

“If you want my help, then stop rejecting it!”

If you’ve already read my post, “It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough,” then you should know that I tend to be somewhat perfectionist when it comes to my schoolwork, or just about anything. This has been the case since middle school, I believe, and it gradually got worse from then onward. I think it probably hit its peak when I was in my later high school years, and did not get any better afterwards. My academic fastidiousness was particularly noticeable in how I handled many of my homework assignments, and it would sometimes cause me to have nervous meltdowns.

To clarify, however, I actually did pretty well in terms of my schoolwork throughout most of high school and college. Although I struggled quite a bit with the workload and would habitually complain of having too much to worry about at once, I usually completed my assignments with commendable results and performed very nicely on exams for the most part. So I wasn’t exactly having troubles with learning the material or studying it.

Instead, I believe much of the ongoing anxiety came from my desire to do as well as I possibly could with each assignment for every class, combined with my constant lack of confidence in my ability to do so. I typically approached each piece of homework I was given, from minor daily assignments to big, long-term projects, with an intention to do a really good job and impress the instructor, as well as myself. In the majority of cases, I was able to complete my homework without getting too worked up about the outcome or how I was going to be graded. Naturally, it was the larger, more complex assignments that tended to bring me a lot of stress and make me worry that I wouldn’t be able to do well. Smaller projects could also make me anxious if I didn’t fully understand what I was supposed do.

Anyway, as I’m sure most kids would, I often asked my parents for help with my homework whenever I was having trouble. At least half of the time, my mom or dad (sometimes both of them) was successfully able to assist me with whatever I was struggling with, without a whole lot of drama. I must admit that in several cases, they may have done some of the work for me, particularly when it came to long-term writing assignments. I can’t blame them for doing this as I actually used to have some difficulties with writing, believe it or not; specifically with trying not to sound too awkward or vague.

Unfortunately, there were far too many instances where my anxiety and perfectionism got the better of me and led to usually brief, yet unpleasant conflicts with my parents. What I mean by this is that I would sometimes become a little fussy or upset when the help that they were giving me didn’t meet my expectations or went against what I wanted to do. This more often occurred with writing assignments, and nearly always involved my parents wanting to do something with the assignment that was very different from what I had in mind. The idea of completely abandoning my ideas or going with something that I didn’t think could work filled me with severe apprehension, and thus usually resulted in me having some kind of emotional outburst or temper tantrum. On occasion, the same thing could also happen if I simply didn’t think that what my parents were suggesting was “good enough” or wasn’t helping all that much.

Whatever the case, I would make quite a scene while my parents tried to give me the best help they could with the assignment. Being so overwhelmingly stressed out and confused, I would stubbornly reject their suggestions and shout at them angrily. I would moan or yell things like “This won’t work,” or “This isn’t what I’m supposed to do,” or “I still don’t know what to do,” or “No, that’s not how I wanna do it!” Eventually, seeing that I wasn’t listening to reason or willing to give their proposals a chance, my parents would throw up their arms and say, “Ok Tim, I give up! You’re on your own! We’re trying to help you, and you just aren’t letting us!” At this point, I would implore them to continue helping me and try my best to explain why I couldn’t go with their recommendations. Afterwards, I would usually either calm down gradually and let my parents assist me in the way they were suggesting, or I would stick with what I thought was best for the assignment, with or without my parents’ help. Most of the time, I believe the former was the ultimate outcome.

Looking back on these nervous meltdowns, although I definitely regret being so rude and stubborn with my parents when they were trying to help, I honestly do understand why I behaved the way I did. As I mentioned earlier, my perfectionist way of doing things was really problematic at this point in my life, and so I was very easily stressed out by my schoolwork. I cared a great deal about my academics and wanted to do as well as I could on all of my assignments. At same time, I didn’t like taking risks or trying things I wasn’t confident I could do successfully. I wanted to feel completely safe in what I was doing with my homework, to know that I was “doing what I should be doing.” Meanwhile, I always looked up to my parents and believed that they could give me the solution to any problem I was having, especially it if was school-related. So when my parents tried to help by suggesting something that I thought was risky or pushed me out of my comfort zone, I understandably became very nervous and conflicted. On one hand, I wanted them to help me and I knew that I couldn’t proceed confidently without them, but on the other hand, what they wanted me to do was at odds with what I thought I needed to do with the assignment. So I think you can see why this would lead me to get into intense arguments with my parents.

All the same, I still realize that I should have been much more appreciative of my parents’ assistance, and I wish I didn’t give them such a hard time when they were just trying to be helpful. Believe me when I say that my mom and dad had to put up with quite a lot on my part; they showed a remarkable amount of patience, tolerance, and understanding when most people would probably lose their cool and give up on me completely. For that, I am forever grateful to them! I still go to them for help with my schoolwork every now and then, and they never fail to make me feel much more confident in my ability to get it done successfully. I try to express my gratitude for their assistance by achieving the best academic results that I possibly can, letting them know that it is only thanks to them that I have been able to succeed so well. If it weren’t for their ongoing, unconditional support as well as their patience, I wouldn’t have come even close to accomplishing what I did in high school as well as in college.

Asperger Syndrome and Executive Functioning

Ok, I have to return to the topic that was first brought up in “What do I do? What ‘should’ I do?” one more time. There is something that I forgot to discuss in the related series of posts that helps explain the whole situation even better. This will probably be the last time, at least for a long time, that I submit an entry related to this particular topic. Also, this post isn’t as long as many of the others I’ve been uploading lately because I honestly don’t have that much information to offer on this issue.

Anyway, so if you’ve already read the aforementioned post, you know that I will sometimes freak out and have a little mental breakdown if I have a particularly large number of responsibilities that need to be addressed. When this happens, I spend so much time worrying and stressing myself out that I can hardly get anything done at first. In many instances I will need the help of my parents or a counselor to help me calm down and get productive. I also explained that two important sources for this problem are my difficulties with time management, and my perfectionist tendencies – which includes a false belief that I’m never “good enough.”

There is yet another element to this topic that I neglected to mention in that first post. It actually explains to a considerable degree why I get overwhelmed so easily with schoolwork and other things. You see, my mother has told me that, since I have Asperger Syndrome, I struggle quite a bit with executive functions, which makes it more difficult for me to handle multiple responsibilities efficiently. What exactly are executive functions, you may ask? According to an article by Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child*, executive functions denotes the management of important cognitive processes that allow us to fulfill a variety of tasks. These processes include planning, short-term memory, problem-solving, reasoning, and self-control. So basically, they are the kinds of skills that facilitate multitasking.

In short, it appears that my mind sometimes has a bit difficulty engaging in these sorts of mental processes. This definitely sheds some light on many of my problems with stress, time management, social interaction, concentration, and even reading. Additionally, I have been able to verify from several sources** that many individuals with Asperger Syndrome suffer from a slight deficit in executive functioning, among other mental areas. Therefore, I can safely say that my brain might simply be setup so that it’s harder for me to manage many responsibilities at once without stressing out.

I’m afraid that I don’t really have much else to say about my issues with executive functions. I’m fairly certain my story isn’t really that different from other people who have Asperger Syndrome and suffer from deficits in executive functioning. It’s pretty much how our brains work, and there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it. After all, this is why Aspergers and Autism are called disorders.

Of course, I do not wish to imply that we are helpless victims or that there isn’t any way to cope with this issue. Far, FAR from it. There exists a vast multitude of ways in which children as well as adults with Aspergers or Autism can deal with their complications and be able to manage numerous tasks at once. I have already mentioned several tools that I use to help with ADD and anxiety, such as meditation, exercise, and audiobooks. I know of several other methods that individuals with Aspergers or Autism can improve their executive functions to some degree.

For instance, it can extremely helpful for Aspie students to have a checklist that breaks down each of their schoolwork assignments – dividing them into small, much more manageable parts. Some people also recommend having a sort of personal organizational system set up in their living space: with colored labels for where different items should go, reminders and checklists for various chores and tasks, and photos of what clean bedrooms and kitchens should look like. If you look online you should find dozens of recommended techniques, services, books, and iPhone apps to help children and adults on the Autism spectrum deal with their deficits in executive functions.

* http://developingchild.harvard.edu/key_concepts/executive_function/

** http://cirpstudents.com/Research%20Library/assets/another-advanced-test-of-theory-of- mind–evidence-from-very-high-functioning-adults–with-autism-or-asperger-syndrome-.pdfm, http://www.du.edu/psychology/dnrl/Executive%20function%20deficits%20in%20high-functioning%20autistic.pdf, http://www.sacramentoasis.com/docs/8-22-03/core_deficits.pdf, http://aut.sagepub.com/content/3/3/213.full.pdf, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1991.tb00352.x/abstract

“It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough.”

Do you constantly find yourself worrying that the work you’re doing might not be “good enough?” Do you also tend to worry about not being “good enough” as a person in general? If so, then let it be known that you are not alone. In fact, a sizable percentage of the human race has some form of perfectionism; they believe that no matter what, they’ll never truly be good enough. I just might be one of those people who suffers from this the most.

If there is one thing that never fails to bring me severe stress, it’s the endless, relentless fear that I’m not doing an adequate job: whether it be on a specific task, or as a general fact. In other words, I have a pretty severe case of perfectionism. I stated in the post, “What do I do? What ‘should I do?” that this, along with my poor time management skills, makes it easier for me to panic whenever I have many tasks to handle at once. Just as I did with time management in the previous entry, I will now elaborate upon my issues with perfectionism and why it causes me so much anxiety.

As I mentioned earlier, I am completely aware that tons of people have this problem of constantly trying to meet a certain standard in their lives, and never feeling fully satisfied with themselves. It’s definitely NOT an unusual condition, and it may very well be that the majority of all human beings suffer from it. With that said, perfectionism seems to have a particularly powerful influence on my day-to-day behavior. Perfectionism affects my life in two key areas.

Firstly, whenever I am given a responsibility or task to complete, I will often spend a considerable amount of time making sure that I do a “good job” on it. This mostly applies to tasks such as schoolwork assignments, duties at work, and long-term academic projects. It can also sometimes apply to less substantial things like household chores, exercise, meditating, buying products, and even playing video games. In any case, as I engage myself in the task at hand, I will quickly become obsessed with getting the most praiseworthy result that I can; with being able to feel genuinely proud about what I have accomplished. Of course, when you’re such a perfectionist and nit-picky person, it’s not easy to be fully satisfied with your work, and you tend to give yourself unreasonable standards for quality. Consequently, I will spend far more time than necessary to finish a particular task, with much of it spent struggling to meet these standards. Most of the time, I will be unsatisfied to some extent with the end product and believe that someone else could have done it a whole lot better.

For example: I rarely feel completely gratified with my own posts on this blog. No matter how hard I try, I can’t shake off the impression that the article I’m writing could be a little better. As a result, I have to make several modifications to each entry before I consider uploading it. I will sometimes even send the post to my mother for a quick review. Even when she says that it’s perfectly fine, I’ll still feel a little disappointed with how the post turned out in the end. Since I am apparently unable to make it as fantastic and well-crafted as I’d like it to be, I upload it anyway, hoping that at least others will appreciate it. So I guess you can say that I’m not a huge fan of my blog, because I’m so perfectionist and self-critical when it comes to writing. I also tend to assume that other people write far superior blog posts, including on the topic of Asperger Syndrome (please don’t try to convince me otherwise, because that’ll mean you’re putting down your own writing, which I do not wish to hear).

The second way in which perfectionism enters into my life is on a much more general level. It would be difficult to explain this issue fully without making the post over 3000 words long, so I’ll do best to give a basic summary. Whenever I take a good look at myself – what my social life looks like, how independent I am from my family, how hard I study, how productive I am at work, what I do with my free time, how much I contribute to charitable causes, among other factors – I’m always extremely discontented. Particularly when I compare myself to others in those areas, I can’t help but feel awfully pathetic, unaccomplished, and lazy. As a result, I keep on thinking that I need to do a lot more with myself and follow the suggestions of others in order to become a more admirable person.

For this reason, I like to give myself a bunch of activities casually recommended to me by other people on a regular basis. These recommended activities can include things that my parents said I may want to consider, advice given by my therapist or counselor, interests a friend has which they want me to try out, or suggestions from a book that I’m reading. Whatever the source may be, I will often perceive the recommendation as something that’s mandatory, an activity that I need to perform in order to feel better about myself. I will typically add the activity to my to-do list, put a reminder for it on my iPhone, and try to make absolutely sure that I eventually attend to it. Alternatively, I may myself stress out because I don’t have the time to engage in that activity or because I simply don’t want to do it. Again, even though it is merely a suggestion, I will treat it as a vital task or a direct command from someone else, thus feeling pretty awful and lazy when I cannot fulfill it.

Even if I do commit myself to performing an activity that was recommended to me, it doesn’t guarantee that I actually will get to it. Either I may forget about it completely, or I might be too busy with academic assignment, work-related stuff, and other responsibilities to make time for it. When that happens, I will naturally feel somewhat guilty and stressed – criticizing myself for “being lazy” and not “doing what I should be doing.” Yes, I know that it never was 100% essential, yet I cannot help to perceive it as if it were, since I’m so unsatisfied with myself and I constantly think that I need to do more with my life.

Once again, I fully realize that I’m not the only one who has these problems with perfectionism and self-disapproval. It’s something that affects those with or without autism-related disorders, including those without any disorders at all. All the same, I have a good feeling that those somewhere on the autism spectrum likely struggle with it more than “neurotypical” individuals do. It may have something to do with our troubles with executive functions, how we tend to interpret what other people say, or perhaps the way we grew up as children. In any case, I think it’s very important for all of us to be aware just how critical and nit-picky we can be toward ourselves – far more than most people are in our lives. I, for one, am currently trying my best to abandon my perfectionist way of thinking, and adopt a more encouraging, more relaxed way of looking at things. I believe that many others out there, Aspergers or not, may want to consider doing this as well.

All the time in the world… and it’s never enough

I wish to start this post off by acknowledging that I actually don’t have that much on my daily schedule, at least compared to many others my age. Aside from duties at work and academic assignments, there really isn’t anything else that I have to worry about on a regular basis. Indeed, for the most part, the only two big responsibilities that require my attention are schoolwork and my current job. Therefore, I usually have a huge amount of free time on my hands.

Despite this fact, I often find it very difficult to accomplish all the things I want to accomplish throughout the day. For a number of reasons (that I will mention later), it feels like I hardly ever have the right amount of time to get enough work done. Indeed, even though I probably have a lot more free time than most other people, managing my time efficiently is still a major challenge for me.

In last week’s post, “What do I do? What ‘should’ I do,” I said how I sometimes get “stuck” because I cannot decide what to do when I have so much to worry about at once. One of the main reasons for this, I explained, was that I have trouble acquiring sufficient time to complete all of the tasks that I would like to complete. As I promised in that post, I will now go into more detail explaining what this problem entails, including why it exists.

To give a reliable summary of the issue: when I’m given a large number of school assignments, personal responsibilities, or casually suggested activities to do, I will unlikely be able to secure the right amount of time to execute a lot of these tasks in a single day. Put much more simply, there just isn’t enough hours in a day to for me to accomplish an amount of work that I can be satisfied with. As a result, what I can get done that day is fairly limited, and I’m frequently disappointed with how little I was able to complete. This is made much worse when I notice that others around me are getting a lot more done than I am, including fellow students, friends, and family members.

There are multiple factors that contribute to this time management problem, some of which have been touched upon in previous blog posts. Firstly, I am only able to be fully productive for about 9-10 hours during the day because I have to take medication in order to be stay moderately focused as well as disciplined. The meds take about an hour to take effect in my body, and they wear off about 9 or 10 after I take them. This means that I cannot be at all productive in the early morning or in the evening; so late-night studying or reading is not for me.

Secondly, even while the medications are active in my body, I still have a lot of difficulty concentrating on the tasks that I need to be engaged in. I can’t help but be continuously distracted by my own thoughts about miscellaneous topics and by my obsessions with things like rock music, Nintendo games, and political controversies. As much as I try not to, I will inevitably waste an hour or more of my time lost in thought or reading “triggering” comments online (See “My Aspie obsessions over the years”).

Thirdly, there are a number tasks that take slightly longer for me to complete than they do for most people. I’m not sure if this is mostly due to my Asperger Syndrome, my Attention Deficit Disorder, or something else, but I normally require an extra amount of time to finish certain activities, such as reading, studying, exam-taking, cleaning, waking up in the morning, making decisions, and recovering from a workout.

Fourthly, if I have so many responsibilities to tackle at once, then, as explained in my previous post, I will become frozen with anxiety and worry myself to death. This, obviously, takes away a massive chunk of time that could be used to complete some of the tasks on my to-do list, thus adding more to my severe frustration. So this means that my problems with knowing what I should do in these situations and my problems with time management are reciprocal; they each cause the other issue to get worse and worse.

This is all essentially why my daily schedule, from an objective point of view, does not include a lot of responsibilities or hobbies. Just like with everything else, if I was able to be productive for much longer, stay more focused on my tasks, and get things done slightly faster, then time management wouldn’t so much of a problem. I could then occupy myself with far more productive activities, from volunteering at a local animal shelter to finishing the video games that I bought 3 months ago. Plus, I wouldn’t have to worry about being so incredibly stressed out whenever I have numerous responsibilities at once. As always, I hope that as time goes on, I will get slightly better at managing my daily schedule, allowing me to feel much more productive as a person.

“What do I do? What ‘should’ I do?”

Have you ever experienced a moment where you felt completely “stuck” – where you were under a significant amount of pressure, were given a large number of tasks or requests, and you simply did not know how to handle it all? In other words, have you ever had to say to yourself, “God dammit! I seriously have no idea what to do right now!” Well I certainly have… countless times in the past few years, as a matter of fact.

Not being able to decide for myself what I’m “supposed” to do in certain situations is yet another significant contributor to my overall anxiety. Although this issue is not as prevalent as many of the others I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, it is still pretty frequent and causes me severe stress whenever it happens. It usually occurs when I have a lot of things that I want to get done as soon as possible and I’m not at all sure where to start. On some occasions, it can also occur when I don’t have much to do at all and I cannot decide how I should spend my free time. So in other words, it is considerably easy for me to become lost and confused with what I ought to be doing in the present moment, especially if there is a great number of tasks or activities I could be engaged in.

Anyhow, whenever I am in this sort of situation of not knowing how to move forward, I will most often spend a considerable amount of time standing or sitting still, stressing myself out and worrying. I will try my very hardest to come up with a plan or schedule that I think will sufficiently address everything that I wish to address. Unfortunately, in most instances it will take almost hours for me to come up with a plan that I feel ok with, and even if I come up with one, it may not work when I put it into action, forcing me to try to come up with another strategy. On top of that, I will sometimes be much too frightened by the sheer (or apparent) difficult of the tasks that I have been given as well as how many I have to (or wish to) tackle in one day.

As a result, instead of being as productive as I can in the time that I have, I will waste so much that time just thinking about what I’m supposed to do and endlessly stressing myself out to find an adequate solution. In most cases, though, I eventually will sit down and get to work, doing what I can to accomplish at least some of the things that I wanted to do for that day – typically with the help of my parents or college counselors. Well, that’s at least what happens with academic assignments or anything that’s absolutely mandatory. It can be a slightly different story, however, with things that aren’t exactly obligatory, yet are highly recommended to me.

Indeed, there are two separate categories of tasks that will cause me serious unease when I have so many on my mind at once. The first are tasks which I am directly required to fulfill within a certain period of time. Right now, this mostly consists of academic assignments and long-term projects (although eventually it will no longer be the case, after I complete my Paralegal Certificate Program at Marist). Aside from that, it can also involve things such as duties at work, personal obligations to other individuals, and household chores.

The second category of “tasks” are things that people, either directly or indirectly, have suggested to me or said that I ought to try, for one reason or another. A couple of common examples include trying to make plans with friends, reading a particular book, using a certain meditation technique, trying a new exercise schedule, playing a video game that is extremely popular, staying in touch with current friends, or going to a local event. I’m basically talking about anything that could, supposedly, be somewhat beneficial to me.

To sum up: whenever I’m given large amount of tasks from one or both of these categories, I very easily get stressed out and have trouble deciding what I ought to do first. One reason why this happens to me so frequently is that I am not too skilled at managing my time as well as many others. As hard as I try, I simply cannot get things done as quickly as I would like to, and thus it’s pretty difficult for me to accomplish a significant amount in one day. On top of this, I can only be productive while I’m on my medication (see blog post “Focus, man, focus!”), which sadly only lasts for about 9-10 hours. I shall elaborate upon this whole topic in far more detail in the next blog post.

Another reason it occurs so frequently is because I can be a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to performing tasks and “doing what I ought to do.” What I’m saying here is that I often want to: a) Make sure that the work I’m doing looks adequate and meets all sorts of criteria; and b) Do all of the things that I feel like I “should be doing” given my current situation. In other words, I seem to have this constant desire to feel productive and do what will supposedly make me a better person. This perfectionist tendency is something else that I will definitely touch upon in another upcoming blog post.

I think you can imagine how stressful and embarrassing it can be to have this sort of problem. Not only has intense indecisiveness delayed progress on some very important projects, but it has also resulted in several emotional outbursts and temper tantrums in the past. The worst part is that I am not confident that this issue will go away in the near future, meaning that I may have to deal with it as I enter the workforce and start living independently. So, as with many of my other problems, it is my hope that I will gradually get better at handling multiple responsibilities at once without stressing myself out so much and without making a scene. Maybe as I get more used to functioning in a job environment and continue to use many of the tools I’ve mentioned in “Ways I’m trying to cope with my problems”, I will be able to settle down and take things one step at a time instead of spending hours to formulate an intricate plan. One thing for sure is that I cannot allow myself to go through life continuously worrying and procrastinating when I should be getting things done.

Ways I’m trying to cope with my issues (Part Two)

Having shared tools that I use to improve my social life and socializing skills, I will now go over ways in which I’m currently trying to reduce the effects of several other problems brought up in previous blog posts.

First I will discuss how I’m coping with my anxiety (first read “Not allowing myself peace – Anxiety and Me” for background info). I am essentially using a lot of the same tools that plenty of other people (including those without Aspergers) commonly use to help deal with stress in their lives. There are three main activities that I engage in as much as possible to relieve stress: exercise, meditation, and yoga.

One fact that should be clarified, before I continue, is that the way in which I’ve been incorporating these activities into my schedule has gone through endless changes over the past several years. There have been times when I did a great deal of exercise and meditation each week, but no yoga; there were times when I didn’t exercise, but instead practiced yoga and meditation; and there were times when I did none of those three things. Nonetheless, I can safely say that when I do engage in at least two of them on a regular basis, it has a greatly positive effect on my overall level of stress. Of course, anxiety remains a serious problem for me, and it probably will for many more years to come, but it isn’t nearly as bad as when I do nothing at all to try relieving it.

As of now, here is how exercise, yoga, and meditation fit into my schedule: every day, I try to do around 7-15 minutes of meditation, followed by a couple of workouts on my Wii Fit U program. Allow me to elaborate a little on these two activities:

For those who don’t know what Wii Fit U is, it is basically a game for the Nintendo Wii U console that functions as a personal fitness program. Along with keeping track of your weight and posture, it includes a wide range of games, exercises, dances, and even yoga poses. I am using the program for two main purposes: to become much more healthy and fit in general, and to greatly reduce stress during the day. So far I have found it to be fairly effective in serving both purposes. Plus, since I can do yoga poses in addition to aerobic and strength exercises on this thing, I’m sort of killing two birds with one stone.

Now regarding meditation: whenever I do it, I typically either listen to some relaxing sounds that I’ve downloaded to my iPhone, or I try focusing on my breathing – one breath at a time. Both of these techniques are quite effective, although they aren’t at all simple. While meditating, I will repeatedly go back into thinking mode instead of staying focused on the relaxing sounds or my breath, which I have to snap myself out of. Still, the brief moments when my mind is empty and passive are always worth it, and I know they will become longer the more I keep at it. The same can be said with pretty much everything I’m doing to deal with my issues as an Aspie.

Aside from reducing anxiety, meditation has also been really helpful in teaching me how not to be so fixated on my thoughts, and how to stay conscious of the present moment. This relates to my issues with obsessive mindfulness and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which were the primary focus of my last three posts. Indeed, by meditating as regularly as possible, not only do I generally experience less stress, but it also becomes slightly easier to not be constantly distracted by senseless thinking. Just like with anxiety, however, I have quite a long way to go before I’m at a point where my mind is mostly in the now and doesn’t get sidetracked by different topics every couple of seconds.

Fortunately, I am also currently reading a book to help me out with this compulsive thinking issue. The book is titled The Power of Now, written by Eckhart Tolle, and I consider it to be one of the most inspiring works I’ve read in a while; a must-read for anyone who experiences frequent stress, low self-esteem, a lack of self-discipline, or is simply unable to keep their mind relatively clear. The overall thesis Eckhart Tolle articulates is that the great majority of our thinking throughout the day is entirely unnecessary and compulsive, a product of “false identification with the mind.” He believes that the only real way for us to live peacefully and problem-free is to keep our consciousness in the now as much as possible; to stay completely present to the situation that we are in, rather than allow ourselves to be continuously troubled by the past or future.

So The Power of Now proposes a unique, possibly even radical theory that may take time for most people to fully comprehend. I find the book to be tremendously helpful in encouraging me to be more aware of my thought patterns and take things one step at a time, as opposed to being endlessly obsessed with what happened earlier, with what’s going to happen, or with issues that have nothing to do with the present situation. I’m nowhere near finished with the book, though, so I’ll have to keep reading it in order to gain the full advantage of Tolle’s message. Once again, I must insist it is a fascinating read that could be seriously helpful to anyone who experiences similar problems.

I would like to share one last tool that I am using to deal with my Aspergers-related challenges. This one concerns my difficulties with reading; how it takes so much longer than it should for me to read through different texts. What I do is use an audio version of the book that I am reading, whenever one is available, so that I can listen to the text while I visually skim through it. The reason that this is helpful for me is because it keeps me a bit more focused on the text and reduces the amount of times I have to go back and read the same sentences multiple times. I will usually obtain the audiobook through one of two ways: I will either buy the audiobook off of Audible.com, or I will download a copy off of LearningAlly.com. Learning Ally is generally used for texts that are required for my college classes.

Since I graduated from Marist College last month, I doubt that I will be using Learning Ally much more in the future. I will, however, give a brief explanation of how it works, mostly to recommend it to people who have or who know someone who has Asperger Syndrome. Learning Ally is an online, non-for-profit service that provides audiobooks to students with various types of disorders in order to help them with their reading. Students get a yearly subscription that can be paid for by the school or by their family. The organization has audio versions of many different kinds of texts, which not only includes novels, but also science, math, and history textbooks. So their website (https://www.learningally.org/) might be worth a look for families of a child who has similar troubles with reading.

Not allowing myself peace: Anxiety and Me

Throughout much of my life, anxiety has been an unavoidable burden for me; a consistent obstacle to long-term serenity and self-confidence. No matter how much I try to escape it or reduce it by getting some work done, playing video games, doing a bit of exercise, and talking about it with counselors and therapists – it always finds a way to take over my thoughts and slow down my productivity. It is thus probably one of my more serious issues, and it’s one that my family and teachers have been trying for years and years to help me cope with.

I am not completely sure why, but it’s sort of like my mind has this continuous need to feel anxious or worried about something. It isn’t exactly that I’m always paranoid about the future or frantic that something terrible is about to happen. It’s more like I’m constantly under a presumption that there is at least something for me to be concerned about or something that I need to address soon. A lot of times, sadly, I cannot fully settle this issue that’s bothering me, or at least I’m unable to satisfy myself enough to soothe the tension. Therefore, it’s a little rare for me to feel truly at ease with myself or self-assured that everything is going to be ok.

I think that in most cases, what’s making me anxious is this lingering notion that I’m NOT doing what I should be doing. There is this consensus in my head that whatever I’m doing or wherever I am at the moment: I’m “not doing enough” or I’m “hurting myself” in one way or another. It doesn’t really matter what kind of task I am currently performing, there will be a voice in my head to incessantly remind me about all the other things that I need to work on or need to improve on. As much as people tell me to stop being so hard myself and not demand so much of myself all at once, it’s hard for me to let go of this ongoing sense of urgency; this desire to have everything resolved.

Let’s say, for instance, that I’m working on a homework assignment for one of my classes. I might be working pretty diligently on it and possibly even making some good progress on it. However, what will probably come to dominate my thoughts is the stress of my other assignments, other important tasks, other commitments- just about anything constructive that I could be doing. I will obsess over the fact that I still have studying to do for another class; running to do as part of my regular exercise routine; friends that I need to remain in touch with so that I have a social life; reading that needs to be completed for other classes; the fact that I am not up to date on the news; or perhaps I could be at some charity event that would make me a “better person.” As a result, the homework assignment will take longer than it should to be finished, because I spend so much time worrying and trying to vainly appease my own demands for perfection.

In any case, I’m frequently under the assumption that I am wasting time and sacrificing other things that I feel have to be addressed at some point. It seems that there is always SOMETHING for me to obsess over: whether it’s my lack of a fulfilling social life, whether it’s my heavy load of schoolwork, whether it’s a controversial social topic, or whether it’s my feelings of inadequacy when compared to other people. I can’t help but repetitively hear in my head: “Everything is NOT ok. You cannot feel at ease or allow yourself to simply let go. Something is wrong!” In other words, I always give myself a reason to be worried, upset, doubtful, or self-critical.

Of course there are moments here and there where I might be too distracted to be restless, like when I’m watching a movie or relaxing at the beach. Plus, it’s not like I’m so nervous and insecure that I’m completely unable to sleep or finish any task at all. Rather, my anxiety tends to take over whenever I am encouraged to add something to my schedule, or when I’m given a chance to analyze myself as a person. What makes it worse, I believe, is when I have a number of responsibilities and commitments at once, whether they be mandatory or recommended, and can’t be given specific instructions on how to manage them all.

There are three main factors that seem to be the most commonplace sources of my anxiety. They include tremendously poor time management, difficulty with focusing on single tasks, and lingering uncertainty over what I should do in a given moment. I might go over each of these issues in more detail in later posts, and I have a feeling they similarly affect several others with Aspergers. Anyhow, this mixture of problems not only makes it exceedingly difficult to avoid stress, but it also serves as a justification for having these fits of anxiety. It’s not at all easy to feel relaxed when you know that you are bad with keeping a steady schedule, you can’t concentrate on things you want to get done, and especially when you can’t figure out what you ought to be doing right now. How can someone who is constantly worried about their own productivity give themselves permission to calm down and go easy on themselves?

Fortunately, as of late I have found some hope in overcoming this cycle of stress and nervousness. After so many failed attempts in the past, it looks like my parents and therapists are finally starting to get through to me on how I need to stop being so harsh and demanding on myself. It seems that I’m actually getting the message this time that I don’t need to have every single concern resolved at once, and that I can only improve by one itty-bitty step at a time. Additionally, I am currently trying out things such as yoga, guided meditation, positive affirmations, and support groups. Trust me, to anyone out there who might be suffering from similar problems, these tools are infinitely helpful! Though my anxiety issues are nowhere near resolved, I have been making considerable progress so far. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I am able to handle numerous tasks without having to stress myself out in the process.